The reading from Numbers describes the people of Israel who are grumbling against God’s leadership and provision as they declare, “we detest this miserable food.” The poisonous serpents of the wilderness are interpreted by the grumblers as God’s punishment for this attitude. As a cure for those who are bitten, God gives Moses the sign of a serpent lifted on a pole. Those who look at the serpent do not die.
Paul tells the followers of Jesus in Ephesus that God is rich in mercy and acts out of great love for us even when we are “dead through trespasses.” They were “dead” or unresponsive to God’s life because they lived for the world, themselves and other spiritual influences. He reminds them of the gracious gift of God that has given them a new life in Christ, created for good works prepared by God.
Jesus speaks with Nicodemus in John’s Gospel, comparing himself to the sign given by God in the wilderness (the serpent lifted up) that people may escape death by coming to him for life. We are told God wants to save everyone and that belief in Jesus is what saves us.
Comment: The lessons of this Sunday tell us that even when people are turned against God, God acts with mercy and love to save them from themselves. Yet there also consequences when we are turned away from God – if not the literal death as in the Numbers story, there is a very real spiritual death of being dead to God and left to our own devices. In Lent I admit that I am often quick to want my own way with things, and quick to dislike the “food” that God sends to fill my life. How often do I grumble at what God sends my way? So I see my need to daily ask if I am truly opening my heart and mind to receive and trust the way, truth, and life of God that is offered me in Christ Jesus in all the circumstances of my life – both those that seem good to me and those that do not!